Several years ago, when I was eating lunch alone in the dining area of a university food court, a smiling student recruiter from a major international religious organization asked whether he could speak with me for a moment.
I obliged, and he sat down in the chair directly across from me at my table.
After exchanging very brief pleasantries, he asked me a pointed question.
“Are you unhappy with life?”
After I finished chewing and swallowing the bite of food in my mouth, I responded that I was actually fairly happy with my life.
At that point, he looked down at what appeared to be his prepared notes.
He then spoke again and asked more specific questions about whether I was unhappy with different parts of my life (such as my relationships, my career, and my health).
I once more responded that I was generally satisfied with the overall state of my life.
After hearing my response, he peered down at his notes for the final time and gave a lengthy explanation of why people are unhappy with their lives.
After listening to his long lecture, he eagerly asked me whether I agreed with his explanation for why people were unhappy and whether I wanted to learn more about his organization.
I could see that he had an informational pamphlet in his hand—ready it to hand it to me.
But I said that I didn’t agree with his explanation and wasn’t interested in learning more.
After hearing my response, he sat in puzzled silence for a few minutes and I continued to eat.
Then he decided to press on and started up the conversation again with some small talk to lighten the mood.
“What are you studying in college? What’s your major?”
At the time, I was already a few years out of school, so I told him that I was no longer a student.
After hearing what I said, another confused look came over his face, and he suddenly seemed quite uncomfortable sitting in his chair.
After another period of awkward silence, he apologized for assuming that I was a student and said goodbye. He then picked up his stack of notes and pamphlets and walked away with his head down.
After he left, I finished my meal and later felt a sense of sadness for the recruiter who seemed a bit unhappy with his own life.
Apparently, the only way that he was taught to recruit members to join his organization was to prey on people’s insecurities.
Unsurprisingly, I later read online that the talking points for his organization were originally developed with the help of a salesman.